Tag  |  grace

We Have a Priest

Author William Willimon told the story of an encounter he had with a woman dying of cancer. Exhausted from her battle with the disease, she clutched the crucifix that had been given to her by her grandmother when she was a little girl. It was a symbol of what Jesus meant to her. When Willimon entered the room, he asked if he should summon a priest. The woman held out the crucifix toward him, which depicted the body of Jesus nailed to the cross. She then said, “Thank you—but I have a Priest.”

The Unhappy Sin

Essayist Joseph Epstein writes, “Of the seven deadly sins, only envy is no fun at all.” He goes on to say that envy makes us look “ungenerous, mean, and small-hearted.” There’s plenty of research to back up Epstein’s statement. In fact, psychologists have found that envy decreases life satisfaction and diminishes well-being. It’s correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility envy breeds may actually make us physically sick.

What Sets Us Free

Recently I did some major damage to my shoulder. Several tendons and ligaments were torn and I had to have physical therapy for a few months. The therapist made an interesting statement as he massaged and manipulated the injury site: “You have to get blood to the damaged areas; it’s the only way to heal it, even if it’s painful.” The only way to put right what is broken is to force blood into those areas, no matter how difficult the task, and allow the blood to carry away the scar tissue and heal the injury.

Voice of Reason

Except for technological advances, the first century AD wasn’t much different than the 21st. The human condition can be depressingly consistent: injustice, exploitation, oppression, violence.

Compelling Grace

My friends in my Bible discussion group chuckled when I shared how I was trying to avoid God. I smiled, but it was no joke. His promptings to overlook my demands for justice and extend grace filled me with resentment. I felt like shaking my fist (as the prophet Jonah might have done) and screaming, “You want me to go where, and do what?!”

Portrait of Jesus

So what did Jesus look like? Did he resemble actor James Caviezel who played Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ? Probably not. Something like Warner Sallman’s famous portrait Head of Christ? Uh, no—don’t think so.

The Same God

People sometimes ask me, “How come the God of the Old Testament seems so cruel and harsh compared to the God of the New Testament?” To answer that question, I start by assuring them that He doesn’t have multiple personalities—the God of the Old and New Testaments is the same God. He’s “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). I then explain that a good God can’t tolerate sin—an uncomfortable truth for some to acknowledge.

Never Beyond God’s Grace

My springer spaniel was recognized as one of the most talented, hardworking dogs in our hunting community. He would go out on thin ice to retrieve game when other dogs would turn back. Pursuing a pheasant through the thickest bramble and thorn—areas that other dogs would not enter because it was so dense—wasn’t a problem. His determination was so great that he even made a retrieval immediately after breaking his leg! And yet, when he was just 18 months old, I wondered if he would ever be a good hunting dog. His determined personality seemed impossible to harness and I was ready to give up on him because it appeared he would never become an obedient companion.

All I Ever Did

I sat in church with my head bowed and eyes lowered. I’ve failed God so, I thought. He must be very disappointed. Then my pastor said, “Look into Jesus’ eyes. See how He looks at you, how He sees you.” So I did. And in that moment, I wore the Samaritan woman’s shoes . . .

Full-Circle Compassion

Following a tumultuous season in her life, Bethany Haley Williams battled with shame and brokenness. The journey was difficult, but through Jesus she experienced healing that transformed her life.

Fly to Jesus

George Whitfield, the Anglican preacher who was part of the Great Awakening in the American colonies, once said, “Come away, my dear brethren—fly, fly, fly for your lives to Jesus Christ, fly to a bleeding God, fly to a throne of grace . . . beg of God to give you faith, and to enable you to be close with Jesus Christ.” Long before Whitfield encouraged believers to fly to Jesus, the writer of Hebrews encouraged weary believers to approach Him boldly and confidently as their Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14,16).

The Tone of Grace

I once had a difficult interaction with one of my sons. He had made several poor choices requiring a serious conversation. My son had a tender heart, however (as he often does), and he took responsibility for his behavior. Though I was frustrated with him, I told him that I forgave him. Later, aware that something was still bothering my son, I asked what was going on. “Well,” he replied, “you said you forgave me, but you didn’t exactly say it in a lovely tone.” My son picked up how I offered the right words, but the way I spoke told a different story. I said I forgave him, but I didn’t interact with a tone of grace.

The First Witnesses

Who was the first group of people to be invited to see the Christ-child? Who was the first eyewitness of the resurrected Christ?

Pleasing God

I was thinking about some friends who are facing trials. Jake is about to lose his job because he won’t compromise his convictions. Sheryl has been unemployed and soon her government assistance will run out. Sam had surgery to fuse together two vertebrae in his spine, but now he’s feeling numbness on his right side.

Carried

In June 2014, Hunter Gandee strapped his 7-year-old brother Braden on his back and walked 40 miles. The duo faced the energy-sapping trio of heat, rain, and muscle fatigue. So why take the grueling trek? Fourteen-year-old Hunter wanted to raise awareness of cerebral palsy by doing that they called the Cerebral Palsy Swagger. Due to the effects of the muscular malady, young Braden can’t walk without assistance.

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> christian living

Is This Heaven?

In the fantasy-drama Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella heard a mysterious voice whispering from his cornfield: “If you build it, he will come.” In time, Ray realized the voice was calling him to build a baseball field among his rows of cornstalks. When he built the ball field, major-league baseball players from the past miraculously emerged from the remaining cornstalks to play ball.

Tongues Afire

Over the past month or so, my wife and I have had some hard conversations. Places of deep hurt have become visible again. As we’ve talked, amid much sadness, I’ve had to reckon with a lasting wound I left on her heart. Years ago, before we were married, Miska and I endured a significant conflict. In that turmoil, I spoke words to her that were foolish and immature, words that lodged into the most tender and vulnerable places of her heart. I didn’t speak in anger or malice, but rather with ignorance and stupidity. I’ve asked her forgiveness multiple times, and she has freely forgiven me. Still . . . the wound is there. My words can’t be taken back.

Sarcasm & Sincerity

Sarcasm can cause us to laugh. But it can also become a shield. Why open ourselves to rejection when we can make sure that no one ever knows the real us? Ironically, such insincerity actually leaves us more vulnerable.

> daily devotional

Love in Action

Heather is a graduate from the esteemed Yale University who lives in a trailer park in a rural part of the US. How did someone like her end up living there? Well, it’s not because she’s fallen on hard economic times.

Generous Hearts

I opened a letter from our mortgage lender and, instead of a bill, found a check! Our escrow account had accrued a surplus, and the bank had sent us a check for the amount. The previous month had been overly busy, and I had been unable to take on any freelance work during those weeks. But we strived to remain faithful in our giving, and now God had provided. I was holding a check with a value that exceeded what we had lost due to my inability to work more hours.

Persecuted but Growing

There are few events of greater historical significance in the 20th century than China’s Cultural Revolution. The Communist Party instituted changes at every level of society to enforce its ideology. These included the persecution of the nation’s Christians, with many sent to labor camps. It’s estimated that the Cultural Revolution resulted in the death of 30 million Chinese people and forced the church underground. But decades later, it turns out that the efforts to wipe out Christianity had the opposite effect. Experts believe that there are more Christians worshiping in underground churches in China than there are total believers in the US!

> ethics

rotten fruit

There’s a “quick sale” area in my local supermarket where fruit is offered at a huge discount. If not sold quickly, the fully ripened edibles will become soft, flabby, and infected with fungus.

judgment of justice

An acquaintance of mine, who is highly intelligent and has a philosophical bent, also carries antipathy toward God and religion. He enjoys being provocative, recently quoting the second-century philosopher Epicurus who said: “There is no such thing as justice in the abstract; it is merely a compact between men.”

if My people

I was speaking with three friends about the lamentable condition of our country. They mentioned the continued practice of abortion, the rise of homosexual marriage, and the debt crisis. One friend cited 2 Chronicles 7:14, and said that our nation’s problems will only be solved when our country turns to God. I said that would be difficult to pull off, as our nation believes in the separation of church and state. We cannot compel Muslims, Buddhists, or atheists to worship Yahweh. Nor would we want to. Life goes badly—both for those inside and outside the church—whenever Christianity becomes the religion of the state.

> faith

Real Faith

I attended a boarding school in Nigeria where the older students ruled over all of us younger students. Once, I misplaced a bowl that belonged to a rather cranky older student. Having been given the ultimatum to find and return the bowl by the next morning, I crawled into bed with a heart full of dread. I whispered a prayer asking God for help before dropping into a troubled sleep. Imagine my awe the next day when the bowl mysteriously showed up in the student’s drawer!

If It’s Really You . . .

A non-Christian organization has established a hotline for people who are struggling with spiritual doubts. While the exact goal of this call-in center seems a bit fuzzy, its founder made an interesting observation: “Many people feel isolated or rejected when they begin to ask questions. . . . If churches suddenly started welcoming doubters [for food and fellowship], the hotline project wouldn’t be necessary.”

Lessons from the Young

On the way home from soccer practice last week, my 12-year-old son busily jotted his thoughts onto a notepad he had brought with him. When he finished, he handed it to me and said, “This is what I [created].”

> health

Real Rest

During the long, harsh Alaskan winter, Denali National Park rangers rely on teams of sled dogs to help them patrol the vast, snowy wilderness. Dogsled patrols can last up to 6 weeks, and the dogs are always raring to go.

sweet sleep

Recent research concluded that Americans are among the world’s worst when it comes to sleep deprivation. The published statistics reveal: The US (along with France and Taiwan) ranks among the top three most sleep-deprived nations in the world. Indians (54 percent), Americans (49 percent), and Singaporeans (43 percent) reported not getting enough rest due to being too worried or stressed out. Most sleep-deprived Americans (66 percent), however, can’t sleep because they’re anxious about finances and paying their bills.

Your Body

I like to write out my thoughts before I type them. But when I use an old pen that rolls roughly across the paper, my thoughts thump along in fits and starts. When I can’t squeeze the ink out, I can’t squeeze the words out, and I quickly toss the pen aside for a better one. A free-flowing pen opens my mind, and the words often come pouring out as fast as I can write them.

> relationships

Distance

Reasons? He has many. As he passes several churches during his drive to the park for his Sunday run, he enjoys his solitude. In fact, he reflects on how he can connect with God just as easily—if not more so—on his own. But deep layers of pain, a multitude of rehearsed excuses, and complicated explanations mask a simple reality: Church has not been a safe place for him.

Sarcasm & Sincerity

Sarcasm can cause us to laugh. But it can also become a shield. Why open ourselves to rejection when we can make sure that no one ever knows the real us? Ironically, such insincerity actually leaves us more vulnerable.

You’re Called

Martin Luther challenged the medieval idea that only priests, monks, and nuns possessed a divine call. He said that just as people are made right with God by salvation in Jesus, they’re also called to serve Him in whatever jobs they do. In this way “the entire world [will] be full of service to God, not only the churches but also the home, the kitchen, the cellar, the workshop, and the field of townsfolk and farmers.”